Vagina, lady bits, honey pot, nether regions, or le vagin (if you’re feeling a little like Emily from Netflix’s Emily In Paris). Whatever you wish to call it, at least half of the world’s population has one.
And those with one, at one time or another, have experienced the consequences of Queen V when “she” isn’t taken care of: vaginal infections. What we — the members of the V team — may not realize is that those infections and their symptoms are caused by an imbalance of our vaginal microbiome.
The truth is, the vaginal microbiome is still somewhat unchartered territory to the medical community, considering the research on it is minimal. But people like Priyanka Jain, co-founder and CEO of Evvy, and her team of scientists, doctors, and doers are changing that. Here are three important things you should know about your vaginal microbiome and the role it plays in your vaginal health.
What Is Microbiome?
The subject of microbiome has been something of a hot topic lately, especially the one pertaining to the gut. But that’s not the only place you can find microbiomes — they are also in your mouth, on your skin, and if you’re part of the population with a vagina, it’s there, too.
But what is microbiome exactly?
In her TEDx Talk on Microbiome Research and Women’s Health, Dr. Jennifer M. Fettweis, project director for the Vaginal Microbiome Consortium, explains, “living in and on our bodies are trillions of microorganisms (or microbes for short). These include bacteria, viruses, and yeast. And these microscopic organisms collaborate — they form ecosystems that are very much part of who we are.”
Most importantly, microbiomes are critical for our health and well-being. And for those with a V, our vaginal microbiome plays a key role in keeping us blooming down there and everywhere.
What Does Microbiome Do for Your Vagina?
As with microbiomes in other parts of the body, the vaginal microbiome acts as a first line of defense against pathogens entering your body. The superhero bacteria in this community of microbes is the Lactobacilli, which protects your vagina by making its environment inhospitable for potential villainous pathogens.
However, when the defenses of the Lactobacilli become weak, it’s like kryptonite to Supergirl. And that’s when you’ve got real problems.
“Vaginal microbiome causes some of the most common conditions in women,” says Priyanka Jain in her conversation with Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani on Mindvalley Talks, adding that over 30% of people with vaginas deal with an imbalanced microbiome every year.
Those imbalances can cause the uncomfortable, miserable, and sometimes alarming symptoms of vaginal problems you often experience, including:
- Redness or itchiness
- Strange-colored discharge
- Increased discharge
- Questionable odor
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Spotting or bleeding between periods, after sex, or after menopause
- Pain during intercourse
Imbalances in the microbial communities are associated with a number of different diseases, disorders, and other adverse health outcomes.— Dr. Jennifer M. Fettweis, project director for the Vaginal Microbiome Consortium
When there are disruptions in normal vaginal flora, there’s also an increased risk for vaginal health problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, miscarriages, infertility, preterm birth, STDs, gynecologic cancers, and more.
Understandably, it’s frustrating and annoying. And because there’s not enough information out there about the vaginal microbiome, problems in the V are often wrongly identified.
“We all have our own stories of feeling misunderstood or misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed at the doctor’s office,” says Priyanka. “And, you know, as women, for so long, that’s just been the status quo.”
Well, it’s time to change that.
What Can You Do for Your Vaginal Health?
Women and people with female reproductive organs go through so many body changes in our lifetime — menstrual cycles, ovarian cycles, pregnancy, menopause, and so on.
When our body gets out of whack, and we experience health issues like urinary tract infections (UTIs), yeast infections, and bacterial vaginosis, it’s often suggested to:
- Drink more water
- Sleep more (and better)
If you’ve been here, you’re not alone. Priyanka (and many others) have been here, too.
She explains the replies she received growing up were always along the lines of “I don’t really know” and “there is never any data to help us make decisions about you.” Her brothers, on the other hand, have always been cleanly diagnosed and prescribed precision drugs to help them through their male health problems.
What can help
Although hydrating, resting, and relaxing do contribute to better health and well-being, there are other ways to keep your vagina healthy:
- Put that douche down.
- Change your pads or tampons as often as possible, or consider using period underwear.
- Pop a probiotic or eat a probiotic yogurt.
- Don’t sit in your sweaty gym clothes or damp swimsuit for too long.
- Eat foods that promote your gut microbiome.
- Use condoms for penetrative sex.
- Don’t abuse antibiotics.
- Speak with your medical practitioner about your vaginal health.
Know what’s up down there
Talking about vaginas has long been taboo. A recent study shows 58% of people were either embarrassed or unaware of the importance of having an open dialogue with friends and family on gynecological health.
Sometimes people don’t dare to admit that they have certain conditions down there because we have this weird misunderstanding and there’s no information what comes from what — what is the cause of certain conditions down there in our panties. So most of the time, it’s safer to just not mention.— Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani, co-founder of Mindvalley
Dr. Jen Gunter, gynecologist and author of The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina — Separating the Myth From the Medicine, adds when you feel unable to speak freely about your vaginal health, not only will you miss out on treatment, but may also get bad, health-threatening advice from less reputable sources.
She says, “When you can’t say a word, the implication is that it’s shameful and that it shouldn’t be talked about. That stifles your ability to find out what’s typical versus what might be a medical condition.”
The best thing to do for your vaginal health is to equip yourself with as much knowledge as possible. Not only general but also specific to your unique individual “cave of wonders.” As the saying goes: knowledge is power.
We’ve established that the microbiome is part of us and that we may even have some degree of control over it.— Dr. Jennifer M. Fettweis, project director for the Vaginal Microbiome Consortium
So how can you find out more about your own unique vaginal microbiome? This is where people like Priyanka and her team at Evvy come in.
Rethinking the Status Quo
Although more research is needed to further and fully understand microbiomes, there are companies out there, like Evvy, that are laying down the foundation.
Evvy is a team of scientists, doctors, designers, and doers. And their mission is a really cool one: “to close the gender health gap by discovering and leveraging overlooked biomarkers in the female body — starting with the vaginal microbiome.” The great thing is, the company provides at-home vaginal microbiome test kits so you can gain incredible insights into your health.
According to Priyanka, most doctors actually don’t even order a test, or they only have access to PCR tests (which, thanks to COVID, we know what those are) that look for specific pathogens. Unfortunately, that doesn’t tell you much about the overall ecosystem of your vaginal microbiome.
“There just isn’t access to much more in-depth testing that also then provides you with much better recommendations,” says Priyanka. “The beauty of Evvy is that we’re constantly learning what’s working for different types of people so that we can then help educate our customers with uniquely what’s most likely to help them.”
When you know more about what’s going on down there, then you’ll be able to get a more precise treatment for your specific vaginal needs.
And given its vital role in bodily functions, sexual pleasure, and contribution to humankind, the vagina is a body part worth understanding — whether you have one or not. Because, honestly, “she” deserves better.
The Cherry On Top
If you’re looking for more incredible insights into your reproductive health, check out:
- Dr. Harry Adelson and Dr. Amy Killen on “The Science of Reverse Aging”
- “A Woman’s Guide to Infradian Rhythm Self-Care” based on Alisa Vitti’s wisdom
- Dr. Amy Killen on “How to Maximize the Potential of Your Sexual Health”
- Tantra Touch Quest with Psalm Isadora
- Anni Lalla on “Defeat Sexual Repression And Achieve True Pleasure”
Life is an adventure. And when you give the love you deserve to yourself (and your Queen V), it’s bound to be brilliant.